For Those In the Know

You’re having a conversation. Someone says something which you know is factually incorrect. What do you do?

long necked turtle

Eastern Long-Necked Turtle. image taken from flickr.com

A couple of days ago, for instance, I was taking a walk with a few people, taking in the health benefits of sunburn and sweat collection. We chanced upon some long-necked turtles in an artificial, desperately-trying-to-look-natural lake and, naturally, started discussing them. One of our group identified them as terrapins. For those who didn’t know, I live in Australia, which would make this quite an extraordinary find. Doing my duty as a Biology graduate, I pointed out their long necks, the fact that they were larger, the fact that they were swimming more slowly, and, of course, the fact that we were a little far away from their home by mere tens of thousands of kilometres.

terrapin

Terrapin. image taken from ct.gov

“No, I’m pretty sure they’re terrapins.”

What does one do at this point? I’ll tell you what I did. As a trained non-jerk, I sat there silently, as I had taught myself to do many years before, listening to him talk knowledgeably about terrapins, how they sat at the bottom of the lake with their mouths open waiting for fish, whilst I slowly imploded. Physicists are currently perplexed as to how black holes, like the one I’ve become, can have the sentient thought required to write blogs. I, however, am still wondering how someone can manage to incorporate three different species of turtle into one painfully stupid explanation. As an animal lover, my dad’s explanation later that this guy had most likely never seen turtles outside the dinner table and probably thought they were all the same did not help.

alligator snapping turtle

Alligator Snapping Turtle. image taken from wikipedia.org

Non-biology-inclined readers will probably be wondering at this point why I care so much. I will admit, perhaps this time I was a little biased; that same person had, only hours before, said my dad’s house reeked of cat piss, quite matter-of-factly, in those words. But there is a wider point to all of this. Everyone’s had that conversation where someone who clearly doesn’t know what they’re talking about, through dumb luck, obtained the mic. My dad, for instance, has many similar experiences in conversations about power tools. “Mate, you paid too much for that drill, I got mine for X, and all it cost me was that lithium battery…” happens quite often, to which he apparently walks off, laughs, and cries, all in one action. My mum (a Chinese historian), upon my question as to whether Chinese wives not taking their husbands’ surnames indicated less societal sexism, unleashed a tirade about my naivety so vehement I try not to ask her about Chinese history at all now.

This sort of thing is especially noticeable in a political conversation. For instance, I think that Reclaim Australia is factually a bunch of racists cunningly disguised as slightly less racist racists, so if someone talks about them with so much as a tone of sympathy, I treat them with the same derision as I did Mr Alligator-Snapping-Long-Necked Terrapin. For me, and I suspect far more others than the vocal few realise, these conversations end with my sitting there silently, pretending to be defeated so as to kill the conversation as quickly as possible, all the while becoming an even denser black hole.

Groan-man-statue.fw_

What can you do but sit there and bear it? image taken from johnparkerlive.com

So, people say stupid things. What do we do about it? Well, most of you will probably tell me to suck it up, and who knows, you’re probably right. But it’s not being on the receiving end of mind-numbingly incorrect statements that worries me (well, I guess it worries me a little). What if I end up being the guy giving those statements? What if I thought I was discussing Neoliberalism when I was actually talking about bunny rabbits? Everyone would, like me, be too awkward to say anything, and I’d never know I’d made an ass of myself. Hell, I’ve probably already been Turtle Man without realising. Clearly, societal change is needed. I need people to start calling out my stupidity, and to do the same to others, or else Turtle Men will continue to plague conversation and the resulting implosion-generated black holes will destroy our planet. This is big, people!

But, you know, you do it, not me. I don’t want to be a jerk or anything.

Happy new year guys.

-Z

‘Get a Sense of Perspective’

Deep down, in the fiery pits of hell, Satan stirred from his slumber. His most trusted acolyte, Alan Jones, quickly took his place to the right of the dark prince’s throne (in keeping with his world-view, which is more right-wing than Satan’s).

“What is your bidding, my lord?”
“We have done good work to further the suffering of humanity, but we must go further! The wretched human race is still progressing, albeit at a stunted rate.”
“But how are we to further slow their ascension? We have already opposed contraception so they’ll run out of food within fifty years-”
“-not enough!”
“-and convinced the populace that bombing other countries is fine but taking their resulting refugees is not-”
“-refugees? Who cares about them?”
“-and we’ve even started those protests around abortion clinics!”
Satan paused. “Yeah … I think that was a bit too evil, you know? I mean, some of those women were raped into pregnancy … let’s not do that again, eh?”
Jones rolled his eyes. “Then what are we to do, my lord?”

Satan pondered the question. He had been toying with an idea for a while.

“We must further oppress women. If half their species isn’t making any meaningful contribution, their progress will be even more halted.”
“But how are we to further oppress women? Our agent Mark Latham has already called any woman with aspirations a child-hater, among other things. I don’t know what you want us to do.”
“Let’s think back here. Why were Latham’s comments not taken seriously?”
“Because he’s an idiot?”
“Well, yes but no.”
“He’s a loudmouth?”
“Yes but no.”
“He’s washed up?”
“Yes but no.”
“He’s completely irrelevant? He has no class? He’s trying to tell everyone what a happy time he’s having being kicked into obscurity? His comments are rebutted by anyone with a brain-”
“There! His comments are rebutted. The reason why our anti-women efforts are never quite taken seriously is because if there is any debate about it, they always end up figuring out the evilness of our efforts. The problem is, in those debates, anyone with a brain always supports gender equality.”

Jones was intrigued. He could tell Satan was going somewhere with this.

“What if we gave less intelligent people a way to win those debates?”
“But, my lord, you’re asking anti-feminists to speak intelligently, which is too much to ask of the-”
“No, we don’t have to go that far. We can go the other way – say something so incredibly dumb that the debate stops right there.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“Why don’t we plant the idea in those people’s minds,” here Satan paused for dramatic effect, “to have a sense of perspective?”
“Sir? Isn’t their perspective the fact that oppressing women is stupid?”
“Well, why don’t we change their focus? Say something like, ‘well in Africa they have genital mutilation, you’re talking about first world problems you ungrateful bitch’ or something?”

Jones was disappointed. He expected something better.

“Why would they compare their situation to a place completely irrelevant to them? I know anti-feminists are dumb but they’re not that dumb.

perspective 1

screen taken from theguardian.com/au

We’re basically saying that a woman’s genitals need to be mutilated before they can start calling out sexism; everyone’s going to see through it.”

perspective-2

screen taken from youtube.com

“I dunno, I think they’re pretty dumb.”
“I have my reservations, my lord.”
“Alright Alan, let’s make a bet. Plant the idea in your radio show, and if it doesn’t catch on, I’ll buy you a drink.”
“Okay, my lord, I’ll take you up on that bet.” Jones was not above taking a free drink.

Jones went back to the surface world. Satan cursed himself – he just put forward a bet with zero chance of winning. His idea was stupid – no one would fall for it. He had the last laugh, though; he didn’t specify what drink he would buy.

-Z